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Mary L. Bogumil and Michael R.




Subtext: Textual Context, in the of Langston Writing Richard and Martin Wright, Jr. King,

In recent years, as poststructuralist criticism has achieved a certain amount of acceptance and even dominance in some English departments, many scholars who are interested in bridging the gap between what they believe and publish professionally and what they teach have begun to construct pedagogical systems in which the analysis of texts, various entities that may fall within or without the customarily prescribed canon of literature, is the focus of study. Robert Scholes, in Textual Power, the third book in his critical trilogy, advocates bridging the gap between professional/critical stances and pedagogical practices, especially for those critics who espouse structural, semiotic, and poststructuralist practices. Scholes asserts that teachers of English have an obligation to teach their students about textuality: how texts function (both on a synchronic and diachronic level), how texts can be read (often in different ways and with different results), what informs texts (pretextual, contextual, and subtextual meaning always already inscribed in the text), how texts become part of readers' consciousness and spawn new texts (reading, interpreting, and critiquing), and how so much of what we refer to as culture (especially in a postmodern economy that is information- rather than industrial-based) is textual. Many authors, both directly and indirectly, have discussed the change from an industrial-based economy to an information-based economy as one of the characteristics of a postmodern era (see Huyssen; Jameson; Lyotard; Rowe). Reading (encountering a text), interpreting (creating a companion text), and critiquing (generating a dialectic or dialogic text) are essential acts for students as readers of literature, for students as writers, as well as for students as individuals. Scholes concisely summarizes the teacher's role in this process: Now we must learn instead to help our studentsunlock textual power and turn it to their own uses. We must help our students come into their own powers of texMary L. Bogumil is an adjunct assistant professor at Iowa State University. She is currently studying the use of synaesthesia in Joyce's Ulysses. Michael R. Molino also teaches at ISU. He has published on the Irish poet Seamus Heaney and is currently studying the role of the language of the '"other" in Heaney's poetry.

College English, Volume 52, Number 7, November 1990 800
Copyright © 1990 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.

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These are the "values" which shouldbe transmitted throughblack criticaltheory. In his article "Authority. play.resisting and questioningculturaltexts. it is often the goal of those who generate texts to obscure that very fact. helpingthem to expose false uses of language. . writing. but a studentcapableof critiqueof actively pressuring. the makingof new texts by students. the ability of those who create texts to present and repress ideas. The consequences for a curriculum will be a shift from privileginga particular body of culturallysanctioned texts to emphasizingthe mode of critical inquiryone can bring to bear on any textual object and the politicalimplicationof such modes.and vicious lies-from all of which our people have sufferedjust as surelyas we have froman economicorderin which we were zeroes and a metaphysicalorderin which we were absences. Many African-American writers. interpret. even without the extensive and often complex critical nomenclature that one finds today. to make their texts appear neutral and natural (see Fish. pluralistic culture such as that of the United States will either have the ability to read. No." regarding the place of textual analysis and criticism in the classroom. addresses this issue specifically in reference to a critical approach to African-American literature: How can the use of literaryanalysis to explicate the racist social text in which we still find ourselves be anything but political? To be political. (Cohanet al. and story is a text related to others. (White) Power. it's all Greek to me. my task-as I see it-is to help to guaranteethat black and so-calledThirdWorldliterature is taught to black and ThirdWorld (and white) students by black and Third World and white professors in heretofore white mainstreamdepartmentsof literature and to trainuniversitygraduateand undergraduate studentsto think. class and gender relations. In fact. Similar in many ways to Scholes' position. knew of the power of textuality to free and to bind. In what might be referred to as a polyvocalic articulation of beliefs (although dissenting voices are conspicuously silent in the document). and even to writeclearly. and the (Black) Critic. to attempt to hide the very textuality of their texts." Henry Louis Gates. the end of an education in literature will be. whether in speech. both verbal pretexts and social sub-texts. however. The response to a text is itself always a text.or action.fraudulent claims. and critique the multiplicity of texts that compose a culture or they will be controlled by them. (336) It is in this context that a study of certain African-American writers is invaluable. or. the writers of the Syracuse paper see a political consequence to textual awareness: For those committedto understanding and resistingthe role of texts in producing oppressive race. and all mannerof posttexts includingtheir own responses.(20) Most importantly. 1) A common idea occurs in the stance taken both by Scholes and by the Syracuse writers: students living in a complex. must play a majorrole in the kindof course we are discussing. Scholes advocates teaching students about textual power. That is why expression. the English Department at Syracuse University circulated a position paper. not the traditional"well read" student.We must help them to see that every poem. entitled "Not a Good Idea: A New Curriculum at Syracuse. Jr. Our knowledgeis itself only a dim text that brightensas we express it. does not mean that I have to write at the level of diction of a Marvelcomic book. to read. propaganda. McCanles). and muddledarguments. to mold and to mar human experience.Textual Power 801 tualization.

Jesse B." "black-mailed. Simple critiques such usage by arguing that the result has been a perversion of a word that is associated with. as Simple lacks the benefit of an education. defines. one in which the word "black" acts as a positive prefix and the word "white" acts as a pejorative prefix. but the black race." "black-list. This passage from Hughes' piece and the litany of pejorative connotations associated with the prefix "black" encourage readers to re-examine their usage of "that" word as well as any attitudes that may be the consequence of such usage. whether a minority member or not. Simplea recurring character in Hughes' vignettes. although he demonstrates a good deal of common sense. were predominantly white. unpleasant. Jr. and even the occasional malapropism. perhaps the central character-is a combination of "simple" truths. In Hughes' short piece. In this light. and the interpretive contexts of Langston Hughes' "That Word Black.P. such as gamblers fixing basketball games and black marketeers dealing in valuable supplies during the war. asks for civil rights for the black man. Subsequently. who uses a word such as "odium" and knows about such historical entities as the Black Hand Society. Thus. Simple continues by pointing out that those who participated in illegal activities. 'I feel like talking about the word black'" (148).' said Simple. white folks have done used that word to mean something bad so often until now when the N. Simple follows Scholes' textual process thoroughly as he expresses his views. Simple's voice. a reversal of the current text. known as "Simple. an "educated" voice-who uses "good" or "correct" grammar. He wants ." expresses his views on the use of the word "black" as a negative prefix in so many words. humorous insights. his point is that if a word has certain negative associations.C. not black.802 College English A study of the verbal pretexts. immoral or otherwise unacceptable behavior.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" reveals a common experience-that cultural repression is propagated in part through the power of language and that it can be dispelled in part through the power of language. receives all the bad press. as I were saying.A. He begins with his text: "'This evening." He then begins to interpret his text by showing how all these words have negative meanings. "That Word Black." part of a series of vignettes about life in Harlem. and describes a distinct group of people. but more importantly revealing that it is the prefix "black" that gives them their pejorative connotation and that the prefix is often used to denote some illegal. "Now. and Martin Luther King. the social subtexts." "black-balled. As Simple exclaims. the word black. He has read his text many times and can make an extensive list of words in which the word "black" acts as a prefix: "black cat. Simple advocates a new textuality. and then a second voice. Semple. The reader recognizes immediately that there are two voices present in the text: one voice-an unnamed speaker. as it were. who are concerned with the teaching of textual power in hopes of affecting a change in the direction toward the fair treatment of all citizens. these texts become particularly relevant to all those." Richard Wright's Black Boy.A. they think they must be bad" (148). bold honesty. ipso facto those people who are defined by that word must share those same connotations. an "uneducated" voice.

By simply assigning a reading. but I am not ashamed. a way of examining the text for its textuality is essential. Simple has taken the first step toward defining himself. Before students enter this given world of discourse." "whitelist. his image of himself and those like him. earth. sky. rejecting the negative associations attached to the word? Like Simple. particular human catalysts of discrimination such as Hitler and Talmadge and specific places of racial discord such as North Carolina and South Africa. so you wake up feeling good. those that do not brand with the mark of Cain but those that liberate: I am black. I am black. Simple's hope is naive perhaps. and people harmoniously coexist. He realizes the power of language to spawn new texts. universal associations with the word "black. Whatis wrongwith black?(149-50) The piece ends ambiguously." will become part of the student reader's consciousness.Textual Power 803 "whitemail. therefore. but by controlling the old one. Trees and flowers and fruits and sweet potatoes and corn and all that keeps mens alive comes right up out of the earth-good old black earth. Has Simple." This macrocosmic perspective entails a litany of universal images that Simple deems as positive associations. I see myself. He suddenly envisions a world in which the elements of nature. the image of the self that Simple sees every morning. new images. the instructor has no guarantee that a text. Coal is black and it warms your house and cooks your food. he tentatively abandons his microcosmic associations of the word "black" in which he focuses upon the etymological deviations of that word in the language. However.Sleep is black which gives you rest. there is a transformation in Simple from a malevolent attitude to a benevolent attitude after he has speculated over those pejorative connotations of the word "black. The vehicle of this transformation is the mirror. He did not make us no badderthan the rest of the folks. The night is black. not only by inventing a new language. and is beautiful. I feel very good this evening. in order to explore a macrocosmic perspective of the word "black. and a million stars." which is illustrated in a contextual shift in his discourse. We as readers become aware of a dialogic text-one that we have engendered through the act of reading and interpreting. such as "That Word Black. God made me. a chance to dream and even dispel the light of racism through the absence of color. It is important to note that Simple's insights are more than mere linguistic play. or is the concluding question a statement of defiance. The earth is black and all kinds of good things come out of the earth. daddy-o. In other words. but his assessment is textually sound: he reads." and "whiteball" to have the pejorative meanings that are currently thrust upon their black counterparts. for it is the black soil that enriches the plants and produces an abundant harvest and the black night that provides man with a tranquil rest. they must understand that . and asserts a new text during the course of his brief discussion. When I look in the mirror. after his litany of positive associations. with a question. interprets. Through the presence of these positive. returned to a state of doubt. critiques." Simple attempts to dispel those feelings of inferiority that have become manifest. which has a moon. readers are left to answer the question themselves. they reveal the very heart of his identity.

as well as extratextual factors (those beyond the bindings of that particular book).804 College English this operative interaction amongst the writer. In other words. and probably is. those ideological and aesthetic assumptions which we bring to a text unwittingly. the meanings of the text. each of us bringsto a text an implicittheory of literature. a critical gumbo as it were. as Simple claims it has. the criticaltheory at hand. This experience. In fact. an inversion of the old text. conveyed in the form of a narrative. Gates addresses this issue specifically: Whetherwe realize it or not. respect the integrityof the separatetraditionsembodiedin the black work of art. L. would have on Wright's political discourse. the author. This is not to say that students must follow Simple's contention that a new text be created. and the reader leads the reader to create a variant text through the process of interpretation. (334) Reading. the awareness of the inequalities of the old text is the first step in creating a new or consciously modified text in which such inequalities do not exist. Had not the South. above all. the students learn that context is the choices of usage and interpretation the reader faces-both within the text itself. the text. those of us who respect the sheer integrityof the black tradition. interpreting. In Black Boy. Finally. outside the control of the reader and may have molded the consciousness of the reader.throughrevision. and critiquing are thus self-reflexive acts in which the reader encounters the craftsmanship of the author. Hughes' vignette. which had assignedme the role of non-man. and other readers-projects a pretext onto the text. The students can understand that a pretext is any event or language that predates the reading (and perhaps the writing) of the text and informs the text. the reader-like the character.It is incumbentupon us. depicts a racial atmosphere unknown to many modern day readers and foreshadows the effect that a particular writer. to turn to this very traditionto create self-generatedtheories about the black literaryendeavor. on a psychological level and on a sociological level. the instructor. such as racism. Although they are not personally responsible for the pejorative uses of the word "black. Also. however. by bringingto bear upon the explicationof its meaningsall the attentionto languagethat we may learnfrom several developmentsin contemporarytheory. the Commercial Appeal: Knowing no more of Mencken than I did at the moment. By teaching a text such as "That Word Black." as it were. I felt a vague sympathy for him." instructors can bring students and themselves to a better awareness of the complexity of textuality. Richard Wright reveals how his initial experience into the world of texts altered his myopic perspective as a black youth growing up in the segregated South." the students are capable of changing their own usages of the word. a personal and historical consciousness that affects the interpretation of the text. or even an unwittinghybridof theories. in this case H. in many ways that language may be. To become aware of contemporary theory is to become aware of one's own presuppositions. the students learn that the subtext is any social behavior. . that can be fueled or perpetuated by language." a word which Wright attempts to define in two distinct ways. We must.cast at him its hardestwords? (267) The operative word in this passage is "cast. we recreate. By the very process of "application. Mencken. The beginning of this chapter entails Wright's quandary over the castigation of Mencken in a local newspaper. as well as within that larger text we call society.

for he is a man who is also affected by prejudice: "Since. What options did Wright have to sublimate his anger over racial discrimination: rebel and lose as his grandfather had done. tension. continuouslycontaineddreamof terror. implies explicitly his fear that the language. Mencken?" (270). those words he encounters in the text will somehow affect his behavior. or wallow in self pity. the "Pope lover. reading also cast me down. The decision is a painstaking one because most of them "fit in the anti-Negro category. his desire to know more about Mencken is further complicated by his need to acquire a library card from one of his co-workers. he. due to the presence of Jim Crow laws. and those whites whom he meets in the town. L. Ironically. Then. marry Bess. in my consciousness each day. and anxiety. was there? I held my life in my mind. terrible. displace his anger against whites by fighting other blacks like Shorty and Harrison. using the language of the oppressor: "Will you please let this nigger boy . then. a forthcoming change in his attitude toward life. as his father had done? What. Wright must maintain the role of the "unbookish . Naturally. made me see what was possible.Textual Power 805 On a psychological level. is illustrated throughout the chapter. So. prejudice." Mr. which is based upon ignorance. My tension returned. which is emotively magnified in the conclusion. Prejudices. Wright composed a "foolproof note. . . the "Kluxers" in the company are not an option. The second title. nigger boy" among those who "fit into the anti- Negro category" (268). His boss. he realizes that words can be used as weapons and that words can trigger an empathetic response in him-a "hunger" as he calls it. . is not an option because within the Southern Baptist Church segregation is a matter of fact. the employees at the optical company. have some books by H. feeling at times that I would stumbleand drop it. . The impact of that letter on the librarian was effective and simultaneously produced unexpected results in that Wright had not anticipated that his initial interaction with these texts would create a distance between him and others: In buoying me up. is the only option. implies a beginning. Prefaces. (277) In retrospect this tension. too. The first title. Wright must cast aside his myopic vision of himself as an uneducated non-man.bitter. the Baptist. on a sociological level. I felt that he might refuse me but would hardly betray me" (268). is not an option because he is attempting to ally himself with the WASPs at the company. Falk. reveals to the reader the significance of Wright's desire to discard his "non-man" role but simultaneously preserve it for the sake of survival in a racist atmosphere. and submit to a life of domesticity. These two manifestations in Wright are a primary source of tension-a tension caused by the experience of the language. In the beginning. what I had missed. is the sole reason that Wright continues to cast himself in the role of "non-man" after he has experienced numerous texts." Don. settle down. spill it forever. thus. Of course. I wonderedhow long I could bear it. Even the selection of Mencken's texts by Wright. and that sense of distancewas increasingeach day. was an object of hatred.almost too . surging. particularly the titles. the Jew. then. Falk did not refuse him. My days and nights were one long." supposedly from Falk. My readinghad created a vast sense of distance between me and the world in which I lived and tried to make a living. through sex and alcohol.

(274) Whereas Wright's work is an account of textual power on a personal level. it is this repetition of the operative word "cast" in conjunction with the metaphor "ringed by walls" that re-emphasizes to the reader the psychological and sociological effects of that tension upon Wright: To me.806 College English great to be contained. which is the primary pretext for King's letter. recent public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems. In addition. While King's letter is often anthologized. A milliontimes I asked myself.. in January. a part of the status quo) against another text that asserts the power of the status quo. except for the salutation and signatures. the tension created within Wright was directly caused by his encounter with language through the act of reading.ringedby walls. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. the statement is included here. we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens. directed and led in part by outsiders. the struggle of one text that is not recognized (i. killing. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely. Martin Luther Jim Crow Station in life. And we believe that this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan . I had a new hunger. However. issued "An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense. King's letter is a lucid and inspiring piece of writing in response to a public statement by eight Alabama clergymen who took a stand against the marches King was organizing in Birmingham and who used their position in the community to encourage a return to the status quo. In Birmingham. (274) As stated. woundedme. in its entirety: Public Statement by Eight Alabama Clergymen We the undersigned clergymen are among those who. But to feel that there were feelings denied me. I had learnedto live with hate.e. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized.I knew what being a Negro meant.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is an example of textual power on a cultural level. it seemed a task impossible of achievement. I seemed forever condemned. is not always included. We agree rather with certain Negro leadership which has called for an honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area.I no longerfelt that the world about me was hostile. but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.I knew it. that morethananythingelse hurt. that the very breathof life itself was beyond my reach. the statement from the clergymen. Jr. Since that time there had been some evidence of increased forbearance and a willingness to face facts. and there were no answers." in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. and it was the language of texts that shattered his myopic perspective of the world which was pretextually etched in his memory. therefore. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts. I could endurethe hunger. with my vast ignorance.

) In order to understand the gravity of the clergymen's desire to prevent the demonstrations led by King. (This is not to equate the violence against African-Americans in the 60s with the attempted genocide of the Jews during World War II but to demonstrate the inclination of the status quo to ignore incongruities in favor of the expedient. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense. Their advocacy of those people who are "willing to face facts" reveals the clergymen's tacit acceptance of racist. Indeed. white and Negro. The pun is doubly ironic in that one of the letter's authors is Rabbi Milton L. King's passionate response was written (at least preliminary drafts) from jail where he was sent because he and his followers demanded what was already rightfully theirs. on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled. however technically peacefully those actions may be. When rights are consistently denied. We commend the community as a whole. to use whatever rhetorical means at their disposal to quell the marches in Birmingham and appease white society. However. Grafman. is to affirm the status quo. the unintentional pun on "convictions" in the second sentence belies the effectiveness or justice of such gradualist approaches. meeting with their knowledge and experience of the local situation.Textual Power 807 area. and to unite in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. and the law enforcement officials to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence. a letter they had previously published on the issue of racial problems-although the entire issue of white society's laissez faire attitude toward racial issues lingers behind the clergymen's letter as well. Words such as "unwise" and "untimely" are vague enough in meaning so that the authors can remain behind their veil of objectivity and community concern while reinforcing the status quo. one need only examine the language of their letter. The letter opens with a reference to the clergymen's pretext. We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue. have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. which acts as the direct pretext for King's famous response. (qtd. We further strongly urge our Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations. Just as we formerly pointed out that "hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political tradition. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham." we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence. just twenty years after the Holocaust. discrimi- . All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment. Here. in "Letter" 5) The purpose behind the clergymen's letter. and not in the streets. one finds a Jewish leader who chooses to allow the repression of a group of people based on a distinct characteristic. and the local news media and law enforcement officials in particular. a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders.

he presents his argument in such a way that it responds to the cloaked racism of the clergymen's letter but also presents his philosophy of nonviolent revolt and the necessity of his campaign. Birmingham's Laws. a man used to confronting the moral and ethical problems arising from racism. Finally. white and Negroes. King brilliantly seizes upon the ambiguity and textual power of the clergymen's language and presents a logically conceived argument that turns the clergymen's words back upon their authors: "Frankly. For example." Indeed.e. the students must understand their historical pre-text: the bombing of churches and homes of African-Americans. King. Also. the audience is society as a whole. For King. King reveals without hesitation that discrimination against African-Americans is an undeniable fact that will not be relieved in the manner advocated by the clergymen. Their support of the status quo is seen most clearly in their reference to King and his followers not by name but in the abstract as "outsiders. the clergymen create a discursive labyrinth in which the "proper channels" lead to a "facing of issues. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment." Such statements reveal textual power at its most insidious. the "responsibility" the clergymen want "All of us" (i. which is in actuality "their knowledge and experience of the local situation. . the clergymen use the words "facing of issues" and "face that responsibility" to create a discourse that attempts to silence dissenting voices-all the while making it appear that they wish to promote dialogue." the continued repression of the African-American citizens of Birmingham. the instructor must discuss some of the events that led up to the marches in Birmingham. African-Americans) to face is the acceptance of the status quo-that is. I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was 'well timed' in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation" ("Letter" 5).. the clergymen's political agenda is revealed when they write that "this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area. it is the responsibility of the citizens of color to labor under the burden of inequality.808 College English natory behavior as a "fact" of life that those who are its victims must learn to live with. consequently. when King elaborates upon the four steps for any non-violent campaign against discrimination. In his response." people who are not from their community and thus not rightly eligible to participate in community affairs. "rights" that they already possess under the Constitution of the United States. Although many students may initially misconstrue the letter as a sign of acquiescence in the midst of torrid racial relations in Birmingham because of King's initially cordial tone. the non-negotiation-despite and African-Americans channels"-between "the proper gymen's reference to Crow of Jim existence the continued and merchant community. If the letter is to mean anything to the students. In this line. is well aware that the readers of his letter far exceeded the eight clergymen he addressed in his salutation. the unjust treatment of Afthe clerrican-Americans in the court systems. one in which African-Americans retain their inferior and segregated status all the while asking white society to grant them a few extra rights. meeting with their knowledge and experience of the local situation.

philosophical. that an affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference invited King and his people to the city. from the New Testament. Readers quickly see that King is no defenseless victim. though. or African-Americans. For instance. St. or political sense-King attempts to create a unified social body. Jewish Americans. tied in a single garment of destiny. and any other group . and Paul Tillich). On August 28. affects all indirectly" ("Letter" 3). and fair treatment.Textual Power 809 King's response to the statement is astute and skillfully written. and King wants his audience to see the overall goals of his organization and to recognize that his position and theirs should be the same. King felt compelled to assist those who called in any way he can. when it comes to textual power. polyvocalic text that is shared by all Americans. Although this response to the clergymen's objections satisfy the basic issue of his being an "outsider. This is the brilliance of King's text: he conflates a group of texts from the oppressed into a single. equality under the law. many of the ideas King presents in his letter were succinctly articulated in his "I Have a Dream" speech. constituted of various backgrounds and beliefs but linked with a common spirit of justice: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. By this rhetorical joining. he cites established writers of various religious affiliations (Reinhold Niebuhr. King begins by explaining that he was invited to Birmingham. they can then ignore the greater issue of discrimination. Augustine. gays. The first section is a discussion of the past (paragraphs 1-3) in which King discusses the "rights" of all Americans under the Constitution as well as the fact that African-Americans have long been denied those inalienable rights. women. To accomplish this goal. As president of the SCLC. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Thomas Aquinas. 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. and from World War II history that he believes are analogous to the practices of his campaign." it does not touch upon the greater issue King so desperately seeks to address. The second section is a discussion of the present (paragraphs 4-9) in which King refutes the concept of "gradualism" -the attitude taken toward minorities. King's letter. and he cites examples of civil disobedience from the Old Testament. King attacks the clergymen's argument that he and his followers are "outsiders"-knowing full well that as long as the clergymen. whether white Americans. Whatever affects one directly. Martin Buber. is one of peaceful revolt-rational responses to irrational attacks. King's speech is divided into three sections. whether in a religious. as with his activism. King links the plight of human rights activists to that of Biblical prophets and martyrs as well as the Jews and resistance fighters of World War II. By citing sacred texts-those that hold special significance in a culture. and the community for which they speak. can narrow the scope of the problem to a local disturbance that will pass with time and/or innocuous concessions. He is aware of the tactics of textual power employed by the clergymen because he has been a victim of them throughout his life. King focuses upon beliefs that he and the clergymen share: he cites sacred texts (the Old and New Testaments). He would-be rational and objective attacks not only the overt position-the stance-of the clergymen's letter but the spirit of their stance as well. it still only addresses his particular appearance in this particular town.

hopes. teachers should teach students to recognize the "false uses of language. As Henry Louis Gates. sets out for his new life with a sense of self. NY 13244-1170. sexist. one that sets certain ideals to which all of us must strive. "Our knowledgeis itself only a dim text that brightensas we express it" (20). the freedomthe Constitutionpromised in the first place. as Robert Scholes states. and King culminates his speech with a vision of America in which there is equality for all people. discriminatory. In fact.The written text is so importantbecause. As evidenced in the language of King's letter and his speech. This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never. textual power need not be exclusively negative. ironically. and if we do not articulateour own beliefs. King makes the same point about gradualismin his letter when he says: "For years now I have heardthe word 'Wait!' It rings in the ears of every Negro with piercing familiarity. regardlessof race. liberating. shortcomings. thus everyone must be patient and accept the status quo until it chooses to change. However. using it as myjustificationfor action. This too should be the lesson to students.810 College English that demands social change that society does not (will not) change overnight. with one of our distinguished jurists. Studentsshould learn that texts have the power to articulatethe goals. "Not a Good Idea: A New Curriculum at Syracuse. as though they "were zeroes" or "absences. and in my leavingI was gropingtoward that invisible light. and critiquingthe polyvocalic texts which constituteour culture that we can articulateour own beliefs. and muddled arguments.fraudulentclaims. interpreting. texts are that articulation." which constitute the essence of the clergymen'sletter (336). national origin. . that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied'" (5). creed. and repressive language can be highlighted and perhaps eliminated along the way. Syracuse. Steven. and ideals of a cultureas well as its dissension. at the end of Black Boy. Syracuse University. always tryingto keep my face so set and turnedthat I would not lose the hope of its first promise. . and without texts of various kinds there is no articulation. the third section of "I Have a Dream" is a discussion of the future (paragraphs10ff. but it is through reading. sexist. a sense he had never had before. we shall fall victims of those who articulatetexts that treatpeople. in Gates' words.repressive.and critiques the polyvocalic texts that make up our culture. In fact.enlightening. .it can be unifying. repressive language." We should keep in mind Richard Wright who. a sense providedby his newly found textual power: It had been my accidentalreadingof fiction and literarycriticismthat had evoked in me vague glimpsesof life's possibilities. Certainly.Certainlythose texts we hold as sacred in this country have such qualities.) in which the famous words that are the title of the speech ring out. The process of textual analysis is not just a hunt for racist. of English. or gender-which.' We must come to see.and blindness. et al." Dept. (283) Works Cited Cohan. Finally. to be as King says in "I Have a Dream" a "beacon light of hope" (16). King also advocates peaceful protest againstgradualismin this section. interprets. but a dialectic in which each of us reads. racist. King's speech is a sacred text to many Americans. states. students should also recognize the power of texts to inspire.

Mass Culture. After the Great Divide: Modernism. 1988. Bloomington: Indiana UP." Diacritics 7 (Sept." The Future of Literary Theory. "Authority. Textual Power: Literary Theory and the Teaching of English. What Goes without Saying. Scholes. Rowe. "Conventions of the Natural and the Naturalness of Conventions. Literal Language. . Fredric. Paul Hernadi. NY: Routledge. ---." Negro History Bulletin 31 (May 1968): 16-17. Direct Speech Acts. "Modern Art and the Invention of Postmodern Capital. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. Jameson. Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth. NY: Aeonian P. New Haven: Yale UP. and the (Black) Critic. . The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. 1984): 53-90. and Postmodernism. Jr. Michael. NY: Harper. Robert. Ralph Cohen. Martin Luther. "All Discourse Aspires to the Analytic Proposition. "I Have a Dream. Ed. Gates. King. Hughes. Henry Louis." New Left Review 148 (July/Aug. 1979. or. the Obvious. Huyssen. (White) Power. it's all Greek to me. 268-79. 1953. 1978. "Letter from Birmingham Jail." Critical Inquiry 6 (Spring 1978): 625-44.Textual Power 811 Fish." What Is Literature? Ed. Bloomington: Indiana UP. Stanley E. 324-46. Wright. 1985. Langston. Jr. John Carlos. or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Jean-FranCois. 1966." New Leader 46 (6 June 1963): 3-11. the Everyday. "Normal Circumstances." American Quarterly 39 (1987): 155-73. 1986. Simple Takes a Wife. McCanles. Lyotard. "Postmodernism. 1977): 54-63. and Other Special Cases. Richard. the Ordinary. Andreas.